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PROFILE: Coaches look for more than athletic talent

Submitted by on October 6, 2009 – 11:11 amNo Comment
The Panther Baseball team warms-up before a game at Panther Field.

The Panther Baseball team warms-up before a game at Panther Field.

Recruiting student athletes to play for SFCC’s athletics teams requires more than finding those who possess athletic talent, according to head coaches Rick Hitt, baseball, Carlos Falla, softball, and Kim Crawford, volleyball. There are standards all student athletes must meet and rules the coaches must follow themselves. 

“Recruiting is a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week job,” said Hitt, athletic director. “We start recruiting within our three-county district and offer opportunities to student athletes we believe will commit academically and represent our institution with pride. We like to keep the best student athletes here at home.”

Often, Hitt, Crawford, and Falla learn about promising student athletes from their high school coaches. They attend games to observe the players, meet with students and their families, and talk to people who can speak to the student’s character, including guidance counselors, advisors, and principals. “I really look at how they represent themselves, their teams, and their families,” Falla said. “It is a strong indicator of how they will represent SFCC.”
Members of the Lady Panther Softball team work on their swings in the batting cages.

Members of the Lady Panther Softball team work on their swings in the batting cages.

Sometimes, the first contact is initiated by prospective SFCC students who want to play for the Panther baseball team, the Lady Panthers softball team, or the Lady Panthers volleyball team, Hitt said. These prospective Panthers are then invited to campus tryouts held throughout the year, and many also attend the college’s various summer and winter athletic campus.  “A few of my plays this year have been regulars at our volleyball camps,” Crawford said.

When recruiting student athletes, the Athletics Department must follow rules set by the National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) and the Florida Community College Activities Association (FCCAA), Hitt said. “Letters of intent have to be signed during a specific timeframe. Once an athlete has signed to play for us, we can’t have any contact with that student until they are officially enrolled in classes. We also have ethical rules that we follow. For instance, if a student has already committed to another school, we don’t try to recruit them.”

The coaches also make sure that prospective athletes can meet certain academic standards. “College is much different than high school,” Falla said. “I try to recruit athletes who have a strong high school grade point average (GPA), because they typically adjust better to college-level academics.” To play for an SFCC athletic team, athletics must have at least a high school diploma or a GED.

Once they are accepted, athletes must continue to meet certain academic standards. Freshman must pass a minimum of 12 credit hours with a minimum GPA of 1.75 to remain eligible their first term and a 2.0 GPA every term after that. “We get different types of students academically,” Hitt said. “We create an academic plan for them and provide tutoring so they can excel academically. Several of our student athletes have been Academic All-Americans. The system has worked out well.”

SFCC’s athletes also participate in 15-20 community service projects a year, including the Sertoma Golf Tournament, the Rotary Apple Sale, and fundraising festivals held by local elementary schools. They also represent SFCC at community Christmas parades. “Community service helps our athletes become more well-rounded people,” Crawford said. “It’s our duty. Not only are we student athletes, but we are going to be a face in the community.”

“A lot of our athletes have been very community minded,” Hitt said. “These kids chose the small-town environment, so we take them out and do whatever we can to assist our community.”

Some of SFCC’s student athletes have continued on with their athletic careers following SFCC. To date, 27 Panther baseball players have signed professional contracts, and four have reached the major leagues. Ryan Raburn plays for the Detroit Tigers; Jesse Litsch plays for the Toronto Blue Jays; Chris Waters plays for the Baltimore Orioles; and Darren Clark, though currently rehabilitating in the minor league following an injury, played for the Colorado Rockies.

“Each of our athletes is held accountable in order to play for us,” said Hitt. “They must be a positive representation of SFCC.”

The SFCC Lady Panther Volleyball team recently donated $200 toward new bleachers for Ridge Area Arc. Every year, the Lady Panthers spend three weeks playing volleyball with the Arc clients as part of their community service.

The SFCC Lady Panther Volleyball team recently donated $200 toward new bleachers for Ridge Area Arc. Every year, the Lady Panthers spend three weeks playing volleyball with the Arc clients as part of their community service.

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